Black Beattie & Co at the Criterion

My Grandad, being an engineer, was very interested in the buildings his forebears in Christchurch had owned and sometimes built.  He researched some of them in quite a lot of detail and wrote them up in his notes on the family history.

This post is about the Criterion.  It follows on from Upping Sticks: the Black Family and continues the story of the Black family in Christchurch – following the business career of my gg-grandfather Robert William Black (RW) (1848-1931).

I’ll quote my Grandad’s notes for the first part:

In 1882 a decision was taken to move the drapery shop from rented premises on Lichfield St corner to a new building to be built and owned by Robt Wm a few doors north in High St.

On 15.5.1882 Robt Wm leased from Elizabeth and Amelia Watson, spinster sisters, Lot 2 DP 20 405 with a frontage of 12m to High St area 301 m2 and an alleyway to Lichfield St behind.  The lease was for 30 years from 26.3.1883 at a fixed rental of £560 per annum, not renewable.  On this site, Robt Wm covenanted to erect before 30.9.1884 a building in permanent materials worth £2000.

When the lease expired in 1913 the building would become the property of the Watson sisters, so Robt Wm had 30 years in which to recover its cost.  Since he was 35 at the time, the scheme was apparently intended to see him through to retirement at age 65.

A new building

The new building was called Criterion House.  It formed two-thirds of the building at 201-205 High Street, Christchurch (now 225-227).  The other third was known as Bonnington House and at that point was home to George Bonnington’s Bonnington’s Chemists, home of the famed Irish Moss cough elixir.

But RW’s lease was only for his two thirds of the land…

Grandad gives more info:

Robt Wm and Bonnington made a rather unusual arrangement by which they would erect what was structurally one three storey building covering both sites, but divided internally by a partition wall on their common boundary.  Each would pay for and own the portion on his own land.

One architect, TR Lambert, designed the whole structure to a uniform style, but it was build by two different contractors, William Prudhoe for Bonnington and BR Best for Black.

The Architect

The building was designed by Thomas Stoddart Lambert (1840-1915).  Lambert was born in Selkirk, Scotland and arrived in Christchurch in 1874 via Edinburgh, Wellington and Marton.  After his time in Christchurch he moved on to Dunedin and then Wellington.

The Cyclopedia of New Zealand 1897 has a comprehensive biography of his life to that point.  He was a busy boy having designed, amongst various houses, schools, churches, halls and warehouses:

  • The Jewish Synagogue
  • Sydenham Wesleyan Church
  • Y.M.C.A. buildings
  • the Opera House
  • the Bank of N. Z. banking premises at Oxford
  • the Junction Hotel, Rangiora
  • Christchurch 1882 International Exhibition buildings

The combined Black Beattie & Co/Bonnington’s building cost £5,200.

Te Papa have this fantastic photo of the building taken by the Burton Brothers in the 1880s.  If you zoom in you can see ‘Black Beattie & Co’ written on the first floor windows.  It looks like the staff are lined up on the footpath, but I have no idea who is who.

High Street - Black Beattie + Co c1880s

According to my Jackman cousins, the new Criterion Building:

was the first building in New Zealand to be fitted with a pneumatic document carrying system, which connected the shop counters with a central cashier to whom the customer’s payments would be dispatched. The cashier would then return the change and receipts to the shop assistants in cartridges that were driven along overhead pipes by compressed air.

Black Beattie & Co

Robert Black officially retired in 1883, leaving RW to take over with a new business partner Robert Beattie.

The new partnership was Black Beattie & Co.  Beattie, originally from Scotland, was a draper from Dunedin.  Robert William managed the shop in Christchurch while Beattie traveled the South Island as the company’s sales representative.

The new partnership was first announced in Christchurch’s newspapers (found on the National Library’s Papers Past) on 1 September 1883.  A small snippet in the Local and General section of the Star Newspaper sums up the situation:

The building which is now nearly completed, adjoining Messrs Strange and Co.’s, will shortly be occupied by the new firm of Black and Beattie, drapers. The old-established firm of R. and RW Black has been dissolved, Mr B. Black, sen, withdrawing, and Mr B. Beattie, well known in Christchurch for some years past, becoming partner with Mr B. W. Black.

The Press contains a potted version of this in their News of the DayThe official public notices of the dissolution of the old and the establishment of the new were only lodged in the Press.  RW, having learnt at his father’s knee the value of advertising, took no time to advertise Black Beattie & Co were open for business:

Press - 1-09-1883 - Black Beattie & Co

The Star on 29 September, 1883 announced in Local and General that:

Messrs Black, Beattie and Co., Criterion House, more into their new building in High street during next week. A millinery department will form a new feature in the establishment.

This is followed up on 1 October in the Press with:

Press - 1-10-1883 - Criterion House opening

The promotion of the new premises continued in their advertising well into December 1883, when, not very surprisingly, it was replaced by Christmas advertising.

And so business was off.  The newspapers show consistent advertising of wares, the arrival of shipments and the occasional debt collection via the courts.

Grandad notes that as RW had entered into all the business arrangements alone, Beattie “does not seem to to have been admitted for financial reasons”.  Beattie was also involved in agricultural business – advertising the buying and selling of horses.

The signboard case

In May 1884 they applied to the Council to put up a sign board.  The Star reports their failure:


The Surveyor said an application had been made for a permit for Messrs Black, Beattie and Co. to erect a sign-board, but he had replied that the board could not be permitted.

Councillor Ayers said the Works Committee had acted upon the By-laws and The Municipal Corporations Act.” and had given instructions that no more sign-boards of the description should be allowed. They did not interfere with sign-boards already existing.

The Press reports the ban being of “unsightly signboards extending over the footpath”.  Obviously the signs in the windows were not enough.

Council reports in June 1884 indicate they had put up the sign under the verandah of Criterion House (it’s not clear whether this was before or after they were told they couldn’t!).  There is the impression that Black Beattie & Co thought the council were being arbitrary in their application of old bylaws.  But the council weren’t budging on their no.

So off to court they went.  On 23 June, 1884 the judge found for the Council and fined the two defendants (Black Beattie & Co and P Cairns) 5 shillings.

But it doesn’t end there. During July 1884 there was a flurry of letters in the Lyttelton Times both for and against the sign.  But a letter from “Black Beattie & Co” on July 3 seems to have upset the Council.  After pointing out that they weren’t the only ones putting up signs, and were the Mayor and councilors going to take down the signs on their businesses, it goes on to quote some Councillors saying they thought “that the motion of the Council was tyrannical and unjust”.

The Press on 15 July reports on the council’s reaction to that letter.    The City Surveyor Mr Walkden clarifies that they were told no and when it was put up, it was taken down.

And that would appear to be that.

The Thursday Half-Holiday Movement

In October 1885 the Christchurch Early Closing Association came into being.  The Dean of Christchurch was its chair and it had many of the leading lights of the city.  They were campaigning for businesses to close early on Thursdays.

Why?  “The tyranny of custom had hitherto deprived large numbers of both sexes of their legitimate opportunities for wholesome recreation”  Then only female factory workers got anything like a weekend.  The average shop worker worked a 6 day week, including late night on Saturday after everyone got paid.

A large number of Christchurch businesses including Black Beattie & Co signed up to closing on Thursdays afternoons.  So imagine the stink when some anonymous person lodged an ad on 5 December 1885 stating that the “leading drapers and clothiers of Christchurch will keep open on Thursday afternoons”.  Fortunately, news of this ad must have gotten out as all the “leading drapers and clothiers” have ads following stating that they would close.

Other snippets from the Newspapers

Here is a random list of mentions Black Beattie & Co got over the years:

  • giving toys to the homeless refuge known as the Armagh Street Depot (Dec 1884)
  • having “a very good display” of colourful costumes and lights for Christmas 1887
  • providing prizes for the “handicap race” at the North Canterbury Caledonian Society – think Highland Games (Mar 1888)
  • RW was Treasurer of the British and Foreign Bible Society, R Beattie a member (Mar 1888)
  • R Beattie a member of a deputation of “soft goods importers” wanting an expert in their products appointed to judge tarifs on imports (Dec 1888)
  • had property stolen from the Gilchrist brothers (Feb 1889)
  • the Criterion shop was the site of an accident in 1894 which injured Margaret Horne Pyne and led to her premature death.

The end of the Partnership

In 1897, Beattie and two of his daughters traveled to England for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.

From causes unknown, he died in London on 6.6.1897.  Since Victoria succeeded on 20.6.1837, he appears to have missed the show too.

Apologies if my Grandad offends anyone.  He had a very black sense of humour.  Robert Beattie’s obituary in the Press gives further details of his earlier life and family.

RW continued in business until 1905.  With none of his or Beattie’s sons in the business, he assigned the remaining years of the lease to Thomas Coverdale, chairman and managing director of the neighbouring drapery business W Strange & Co.  In 1913 when the lease expired, W Strange & Co bought the land from the surviving Watson sister Mrs Bullock Webster.

The business continued to trade under the name Black Beattie & Co until 1908:

Press- 3-01-1908 - Closure of BB&Co

Around this time, RW and his wife Emily sold their house “Holmwood” in Fendalton and moved to Auckland.  There they remained until Robert William’s death in 1931 and Emily’s in 1939.  Their house at 11 Fairfax Road, Epsom (now Alpers Avenue) became club rooms for the Carlton Bowling Club until 2001 when it was sold to a property developer and was demolished to make way for the Off Broadway Motel.

The Criterion today

When I first looked up the Criterion on Google Streetview, my main reaction was OMG.  It looked terrible.  But the photos dated from 2007 when it was known as the Galaxy Records Building.  So I was left wondering how it had fared in the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.  My hopes were not high.

So it was wonderful to do a bit of search on the address and find Shaun Stockman’s KPI Rothschild Property Group Ltd‘s website and this:

The Company purchased the building in July 2006. The building had suffered a party wall rupture in 1984 and soon after a fire on the top floor had rendered the two top floors unhabitable. Four tenants traded from the building until 2007, when we commenced a full restoration and upgrade programme for the entire building which saw the sandstone facade restored and the original shop fronts replicated to the exact original. A steel and concrete frame was constructed inside the original structure. The top floors were reconstructed as a range of individually sized ultra modern offices with a shared gym with shower, boardroom and kitchen facilities and chill spaces over both floors. The ground floor now houses a funky cafe and three other retailers.

You can see photos of now, before and well before on the High Street Stories website.  It’s now called the Above building.  And if you want to see what happened to next door (now a brand new building), have at look at Kete Christchurch.


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